Hong Kong prepares to swallow the "Red Dawn"


THE South China Brewing Company has produced a special lager to help celebrate the end of British rule in Hong Kong. The cans of "Red Dawn" have a label which shows the red flag of China folding over the Union Jack.

"When you wake up from a drunken stupor sometime on July 1st," said the South China Morning Post, "it's good to have the label on hand to remind you that you are no longer in the British territory.

The Governor, Mr Chris Patten, will need no such reminder as he wakes up on the royal yacht Britannia somewhere in the South China Sea after the transfer of sovereignty at midnight on June 30th.

Every day now brings a last farewell. Yesterday, he made his final appearance before Hong Kong's Legislative Council, the 60 member body which he made more democratic and which will be dissolved at midnight on June 30th.

Most members gave him a standing ovation and beat their desks. Mr Patten's recent forecast of a "handkerchief day" on July 1st came a bit early. His biggest regret in five years as governor, he told the legislature in a vintage performance full of humour and sarcasm, was that he wished he had been better able to reassure Chinese leaders that the territory and its people would pose no problems for Beijing.

The development of democratic institutions "wasn't a question of planting British time bombs around the community" but of reflecting its aspirations, he said.

When a member raised the recent humiliating defeat in Britain of the Conservative Party, of which Mr Patten was chairman until 1992, and asked what he would have done if he had been British prime minister, he replied to loud laughter: "I think as things turned out I would have appointed myself governor of Hong Kong."

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Minister, Mr Qian Qichen, was meanwhile promising that China would pose no problems for Hong Kong after the hand over. "The central government's policies will not infringe on the interests of Hong Kong. . .We also hope that things will not emerge in Hong Kong that will infringe upon Hong Kong's and the national interests. We do not ask them to approve of China's socialist system. We only ask them to love the motherland and to love Hong Kong.

Foreigners looked down on China for more than a century after the opium wars, Mr Qian told a seminar in Beijing on the "one country two systems" formula. "They did not believe China had the ability to run Hong Kong well. "This was the attitude left by old colonialists."